Senior leaders of the Congress met Chief Election Commissioner A K Joti and the two other Election Commissioners here late tonight and expressed their deep shock and anguish over the Election Commission of India's (ECI) decision to order the filing of FIRs against television channels which aired interviews with Congress President Rahul Gandhi earlier in the day today on the eve of the final day of polling in the Gujarat elections.
The Commission today also issued a notice to Mr. Gandhi asking him to show cause by December 18 as to why action should not be taken against him for violation of the Model Code of Conduct for political parties and candidates.
A delegation consisting of Mr. Ahmed Patel, Mr. Anand Sharma, Mr. Ashok Gehlot and Mr. Randeep Singh Surjewala submitted a memorandum to the Commission calling for a fair and equal treatment in implementation of the Model Code of Conduct.
They said the Commission should first order the filing of FIRs against several BJP leaders who had also violated the code.
The Congress said that, in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, then BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi had given TV interviews a day before polling in more than one phases of voting but no notices were issued by the Commission to him or his party.
It said Mr. Modi had entered the polling booth during the 2014 elections to cast his vote and openly showed the BJP symbol, but no action was taken against him.
The Congress said that, during the current Gujarat elections, a day after campaigning had ended and on the eve of the first phase of polling, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and State BJP President Jitubhai Vaghani had held a press conference in the afternoon of December 8 and released the party's election manifesto, but the Commission had not taken any action in the matter.
On the day of polling, December 9, Mr. Modi had held four public meetings, all of which were televised by the same television channels, but there was no action against them.
The memorandum said BJP President Amit Shah had given extensive interviews to television channels at Ahmedabad today and also issued a statement criticising former Prime Minister and senior Congress leader Manmohan Singh. Union Minister Piyush Goyal held two press conferences today on Gujarat, which were also telecast by the channels.
The Congress said advertisements were issued in today's newsapers and may be issued again tomrrow. It said Mr. Modi's visit to Gujarat to cast his vote was also likely to be telecast by TV channels.
"Election Commission is duty bound to be fair and impartial. We have to regrettably state that aforesaid apparent discrimination and an apparent advantage being given to the ruling party militates against this notion.
The Congress urged the Commission to immediately withdraw the order directing registration of an FIR against news channels for telecasting the interview of Mr. Gandhi. It also urged the Commission to file an FIR against the BJP for casting aspersions on the conduct and fairness of the EC before a decision was taken in this matter.
The memorandum said that, if the yardsticks of violation of Model Code of Conduct were to be applied by the EC, it should also order registration of FIRs against Mr. Modi, Mr. Shah, Mr. Jaitley, Mr. Goyal, Mr. Vaghani and other BJP leaders.
It also urged the EC to direct all print and electronic media organisations not to carry any news reports with regard to elections or live telecast any pictures of casting of votes of any political leader.